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The Cincinnati Bengals fall flat again in a loss to the Cleveland Browns

Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow (9) and the Cincinnati Bengals offense take the field...
Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow (9) and the Cincinnati Bengals offense take the field for the first possession of the game in the first quarter during a Week 9 NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 7, 2021, at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.(Cincinnati Enquirer)
Published: Nov. 7, 2021 at 4:26 PM EST
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CINCINNATI (Cincinnati Enquirer) - All season, the plays that defined the Cincinnati Bengals strong start to the season were the game-changing moments from quarterback Joe Burrow to end the first half.

In the last two minutes before halftime in every game before Sunday, Burrow took chances down the field and kept getting the Bengals in the end zone. Those plays fueled wins in six of the Bengals first eight games, and the Bengals left Baltimore in Week 7 with the No. 1 seed in the AFC.

Then on Sunday, in a game against the Cleveland Browns at Paul Brown Stadium, the Bengals got the ball with 4:10 left in the first half. Head coach Zac Taylor had Burrow run the ball and wind down the clock. Even though Cincinnati made it to the Browns 9-yard line, the Bengals only took one shot at the end-zone and settled for a field goal to end the half.

The Browns beat the Bengals, 41-16, in front of a crowd of 65,451. Cincinnati (5-4) is now tied with Cleveland for last place in the AFC North, and the Bengals don’t look like the team that was talking about making a run to the Super Bowl just two weeks ago.

The first half featured one disastrous play after another. On the first series of the game, the Bengals reached the Browns 3-yard line. Burrow attempted a throw to wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase on the right side of the field, and Browns cornerback Denzel Ward picked it off and ran for a touchdown.

Burrow’s connection with Chase had been the cornerstone of the Bengals offense, but Ward was ready to catch this pass before Chase was.

Later in the first half, the Bengals had 3rd and short from the Browns 40-yard line. Burrow attempted a short pass to running back Samaje Perine, and Perine dropped it. Two plays later, Browns wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones sprinted past Bengals cornerback Eli Apple and caught a 60-yard touchdown.

Without the turnovers, Burrow would have played as good of a game as Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield. With the turnovers, the Bengals offense kept setting up chances for Cleveland to score and extend the lead.

The Browns took a 21-7 lead with Peoples-Jones’ touchdown catch, and the Bengals’ response was another turnover. On a short pass to Chase, the rookie wide receiver fumbled and set up another score by Cleveland. The Bengals had a shot to make it a respectable 10-point score at halftime, but the conservative calls in the last four minutes had the Bengals down 24-10 at the break.

As poorly as the Bengals played in the first half, they were even worse after halftime. As poorly as the Bengals have played over the last two weeks, Cincinnati had its worst football of the season in the second half on Sunday.

It started with a 70-yard touchdown run by Browns running back Nick Chubb. On the play, Bengals defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi missed a tackle. Then two defensive linemen were blocked into the ground. Then Apple attempted a diving tackle and whiffed.

Three plays later, Burrow threw another pick, his NFL leading 11th interception of the season.

Before the game, Taylor used a metaphor to describe the significance of this divisional game against the Browns. He explained how well the Bengals had played in the last two minutes of the half. And with the Bengals at the midway point of their 17-game season, Taylor said the Browns game was equivalent to the last two minutes of the first half of the entire season.

Heading into the second half of the year, the Bengals will still have the opportunity to win their way back into the playoff picture. With a winning record in a down AFC and with an expanded playoffs, the Bengals likely only need nine or 10 wins to reach the postseason for the first time since 2015.

But the first half of the Bengals season ended with their worst game of the year. It left the Bengals with a lot of work to do to claim a postseason bid that was looking likely for most of the season.

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